Her­bert Har­ri­gan ‘fi­nally’ play­ing like the star Dawn Sta­ley saw three years ago

The State (Sunday) - - Sports - BY GREG HADLEY [email protected]­tate.com

Go-to player. All-amer­i­can. WNBA star.

Dawn Sta­ley sees all of those things in Mikiah Her­bert Har­ri­gan. At 6-foot-2 with a smooth base­line jump­shot and an un­canny abil­ity to thun­der­ously re­ject shots, the ju­nior for­ward has a po­ten­tial Sta­ley rec­og­nized years ago when she was a four-star high school prospect.

“Her ath­leti­cism, speed, perime­ter shoot­ing and com­pet­i­tive­ness will have an im­me­di­ate im­pact on our team and our pur­suit of a na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Sta­ley said of Her­bert Har­ri­gan when she of­fi­cially signed in Nov. 2015.

And Game­cock fans have seen flashes of it too — she came up big as a fresh­man in the SEC tour­na­ment off the bench, then started the next year and earned all-tour­na­ment honors. But those suc­cesses have been coun­tered by sev­eral is­sues; at times, the com­pet­i­tive­ness Sta­ley men­tioned has boiled over and im­pacted Her­bert Har­ri­gan’s play for the worse.

“What we have to do is keep her emo­tions in check,” Sta­ley said of Her­bert Har­ri­gan at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. “She’s gonna be a big play­maker for us, but at this point, she’s very eas­ily tipped.”

As a fresh­man, Her­bert Har­ri­gan av­er­aged 3.61 fouls per 40 min­utes while play­ing a lit­tle over 16 min­utes per game. As a sopho­more, her play­ing time stayed es­sen­tially the same, but her foul rate jumped to 4.73 per 40 min­utes.

Across the board, Her­bert Har­ri­gan’s num­bers im­proved slightly from her first to sec­ond sea­sons. But with­out more play­ing time and with those con­cerns about com­po­sure, she failed to make a huge stride for­ward de­spite Sta­ley’s best ef­forts to make her to play to her po­ten­tial.

“She got on me, pretty much chal­lenged me to do what I know I can do and she knows I can do,” Her­bert Har­ri­gan said last year.

Head­ing into 2018-2019, Sta­ley didn’t seem to have much of a choice — with the grad­u­a­tion of A’ja Wil­son, she

needed Her­bert Har­ri­gan to start and play sig­nif­i­cant min­utes in the front­court. With red­shirt se­nior for­ward Alexis Jen­nings lim­ited by in­jury to start the year, Her­bert Har­ri­gan was even more es­sen­tial, and she started the first five games of the sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 8.4 points and 4.6 re­bounds per con­test.

But the Game­cocks’ sur­plus of tal­ented guards, the re­turn of Jen­nings and a lack of con­sis­tent high­level per­for­mances wound up forc­ing Her­bert Har­ri­gan to come off the bench for three games, av­er­ag­ing fewer than 15 min­utes of play­ing time in that span.

Against Ap­palachian State, she qui­etly re­turned to the start­ing five, then ex­ploded for 19 points and 15 re­bounds in a dou­bleover­time win against Pur­due. A few games later, she came up big again with 11 points, 16 re­bounds and six blocks against Texas A&M, then 18 points, nine re­bounds and five blocks against Alabama. In all those games, she played more than 30 min­utes.

“I just use the bench as a mo­ti­va­tor,” Sta­ley said. “She’s not do­ing what she needs to do, she’s gotta come out of the game and I think she un­der­stands that. I think fur­ther­more she’s gotta prep bet­ter. (Be­fore A&M and Alabama), she’s prepped a lot dif­fer­ently than our Fur­man game, and you see it in the sta­tis­tics, you see it in her grow­ing con­fi­dence, so hope­fully it will stick.”

What’s more, Her­bert Har­ri­gan’s foul rate is at its low­est point in her three sea­sons.

“Just be­ing con­fi­dent, like Coach said, and just keep­ing my emo­tions in check. Not let­ting peo­ple af­fect my play,” Her­bert Har­ri­gan said of the change that’s sparked her im­proved play.

Thurs­day’s game against Florida, how­ever, showed how hard it can be for Her­bert Har­ri­gan to main­tain the mo­men­tum of that good play — she had nine points off 4-of-6 shoot­ing in the first quar­ter, but four quick fouls lim­ited her to just 13 min­utes of play­ing time.

None of those fouls were par­tic­u­larly bad, but they meant she ended the game with just 11 points, one re­bound and one block, and for a player like Her­bert Har­ri­gan, those num­bers on the stat sheet can have a real im­pact, Sta­ley said.

“Kiki’s very vis­ual and a tan­gi­ble be­ing. When she sees 18 (points) and 9 (re­bounds against Alabama) af­ter hav­ing a dou­ble­dou­ble against Texas A&M, I think it al­lows her to con­tinue to grow and be con­fi­dent out there on the floor,” Sta­ley said.

Still, Jen­nings said she has no­ticed a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in Her­bert Har­ri­gan’s play as of late, es­pe­cially on of­fense, where she’s shot 58 per­cent over the last four games.

“She’s got her stamina up, she’s shoot­ing the ball re­ally well right now, and I think it just cre­ates more ver­sa­til­ity in our post play­ers,” Jen­nings said.

Whether or not Her­bert Har­ri­gan can keep up her strong play and stay on the court for ex­tended min­utes against LSU this Sun­day re­mains to be seen. But af­ter two years of wait­ing, Sta­ley’s ex­cited to have ev­ery­one see the All-amer­i­can she’s al­ways rec­og­nized.

“I’m proud of (Her­bert Har­ri­gan), I’m proud that it’s fi­nally kick­ing in that she is this type of player. This is what we saw three years ago. Fi­nally, we’re get­ting to see it on a more con­sis­tent basis,” Sta­ley said.

TRACY GLANTZ [email protected]­tate.com

South Carolina's Mikiah Her­bert Har­ri­gan (21) and Bianca Jackson (10) pres­sure Alabama's Jas­mine Walker (40). Her­bert Har­ri­gan has upped her game lately for the Game­cocks, and it’s the re­sult of a more con­sis­tent, ma­ture player, ac­cord­ing to coach Dawn Sta­ley.

TRACY GLANTZ [email protected]­tate.com

Coach Dawn Sta­ley talks to her team dur­ing the first half against Bay­lor on Dec. 2 in the Colo­nial Life Arena.

TRACY GLANTZ [email protected]­tate.com

South Carolina’s Mikiah Her­bert Har­ri­gan has been show­ing coach Dawn Sta­ley what made her a top-rated re­cruit.

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